New York Daily News
Let jihadi killer live: lawyer
Tells jurors he’d suffer in prison for his ‘terrible’ crimes
A Manhattan jury was asked Monday to weigh the death penalty for Sayfullo Saipov — the Islamic extremist convicted of fatally running over eight people in a rampage along the Hudson River bike path — the first capital case in the borough in decades.
After a trial in which Saipov’s deadly 2017 attack was recounted in grim detail, his defense attorney pleaded for the convicted murderer’s life.
Lawyer David Stern told jurors that no matter what they decide, his client will die in prison for his “terrible” crimes and the rest of his life will be a living hell.
“He will die in prison, he’ll die on a prison gurney in the execution chamber,” Stern said. “Or, if given life in prison, on a small cement bed, alone with nobody he cares about to say goodbye to him.
“Only the time and cause of death remain to be determined.”
The jury, which convicted Saipov of 28 murder and terrorism charges on Jan. 26, must unanimously vote for the government to put him to death. If there are any holdouts, he’ll spend the rest of his life at the supermax prison in Florence, Colo. Manhattan Federal Court Judge Vernon Broderick told jurors that Saipov would face “a minimum” of 23 hours a day in a cell at the Administrative Maximum Facility, known for housing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and other high-profile convicts.
If the jury spares Saipov’s life, he will spend his days in a cell smaller than a parking space and lose access to “everything that makes life sweet,” including human touch,Stern said in court.
“The cycle of death has to stop somewhere, but the pain he inflicted on so many people should stop here in this courtroom,” the defense attorney said, adding that a life sentence would leave open the possibility he’ll one day feel sorrow.
“If any one of you embraces hope and growth and change, you will have done your individual duty,” Stern said. “Justice will prevail over barbarism.”
As she argued for the death penalty, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Leigh Houle told jurors that the evidence would not be “easy to see or hear.” More than 20 friends and family members of the eight victims are expected to testify about their grief.
“Men, women, children — their bodies ravaged by the defendant’s 6,000-pound truck, their minds still haunted, terrorized by facing death and watching others die,” Houle said in her opening argument. “And he is proud of what he has done.”
Houle said Saipov had neither shown remorse nor abandoned his ISIS-inspired worldview, which maintains nonbelievers should be “eliminated in humiliation.”
Saipov would pose a threat behind bars — he threatened to slit guards’ throats while in lockup — she added.
“He is not remorseful, and the evidence shows he is dangerous,” Houle said. “And so the United States is seeking the most severe penalty that the law provides — a sentence of death.”
During the trial’s first stage, jurors heard how Saipov, who was working as an Uber driver in Paterson, N.J., at the time, carried out the attack on Halloween in order to maximize the death toll in a bloody bid to avenge killings of Muslims worldwide by the U.S. government.
Most victims were tourists, Saipov killing a Belgian mother of two cycling with her mother and two sisters; five Argentines on holiday celebrating 30 years of friendship, and two young men from New York and New Jersey. Among possible mitigating factors, jurors will be asked to consider that Saipov, now 35, has three young kids, ages 5, 7 and 9. The defense is expected to argue that he has a family that still loves him, giving meaning to his life.
Stern said Saipov came from a closeknit family in Uzbekistan, where his relatives do not share his extremist views. He told jurors they would hear from experts about how ISIS considers Uzbek migrants like Saipov easy targets for propaganda as the study and practice of Islam were suppressed in the then-Soviet satellite state when he was growing up.
Saipov’s descent into radicalization happened when he moved to the U.S. after winning the visa lottery and started working as a long-haul truck driver, his lawyer said. During “long hours of isolation away from his family,” Saipov “tried desperately to get his family on the phone and talk to him as long as they could, but they couldn’t fill the long hours,” Stern said, so he passed the time online consuming conspiracy theories.
Exposed for the first time in his life to political and religious propaganda, Stern said Saipov “was not sophisticated enough to be wary of what he heard or saw.”
The death penalty case is the first tried in court under President Biden. It took about five months to find a panel of New Yorkers who aren’t opposed to capital punishment.
The U.S. is one of 55 countries that still executes prisoners. In December, it disagreed with two-thirds of the world’s nations by joining Iran, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Vietnam, China and North Korea to vote against a UN resolution to issue a global moratorium on capital punishment.
New York outlawed capital punishment in state trials in 2004, when the Court of Appeals struck it down as unconstitutional. The death penalty in federal trials like Saipov’s is still the law of the land.
The last Manhattan defendant put to death was Eddie Lee Mays, 34, who died in the electric chair at Sing Sing on Aug. 16, 1963. Mays was killed after his state conviction for shooting 31-year-old Maria Marini execution-style at a Harlem bar after demanding her purse in a holdup and learning it was empty.